I have to confess—bolting a motor onto my bike has been a fascination of mine since I was a kid and first saw the DIY gas bike kit ads in the back pages of Popular Mechanics. It was probably second only to the idea of strapping a bunch of hot-air balloons to a lawn chair and coasting over the trees in my neighborhood.
Although I’ve come close to building something like my motorized bicycle boyhood fantasy, it always got eclipsed by something more practical—until I saw the electric conversion kits.
Converting a standard bicycle to electric power is remarkably simple. You can approach it from a complete DIY perspective and build it all from scratch; you can adapt motors and parts from salvaged electric scooters; or you can buy complete turnkey kits with everything you need—instructions and all. Finally, the fantasy became practical.
There are plenty of reasons that people like electric-powered, or electric-assist bikes. They’re so much simpler, smaller, and lighter than electric motor-scooters or motorcycles; they can be pedaled efficiently and easily; and, in most states, you don’t need special licensing or permits to ride them. Electric scooters’ pedals are just for regulatory show—to qualify them for “motorized bicycle” status in the eyes of the government. They are too heavy to pedal, realistically. Electric bikes allow an avid bicyclist to enjoy the open road, and help out on the hills or on that long road home. They can help you keep up with the group, if you like to ride with more extreme bicyclists.
They also let you pull more weight—for a trailer, groceries, or gear to the beach—and you can jump on the bike, run your errands, and come home without a huge workout. You can use the bike for a commute, and arrive ready for work without the need for a shower and a change of clothes.
Police departments find an advantage in electric bikes: They can pedal around all day, and enjoy all the benefits, tactical and otherwise, of “bike detail.” However, if they get a call some distance away, the 30 mph top speed of many of these bikes can quickly get them where they need to be without being winded when they arrive.
For city dwellers, electric bikes are light enough to bring into a building and up elevators for storage and recharging in your apartment—something you just can’t do with an electric motor-scooter. If you’re keeping yours on the street, the removable batteries of an electric bike allow for easy in-apartment charging.
“Range anxiety” is avoided with an electric bike. If you run out of battery energy, you simply switch to leg-power and pedal your bike home or to the nearest electrical outlet.
Factory-built electric bikes can cost in the $1,200 to $1,800 range, not prohibitive to bicycle enthusiasts, but the kits can be cheaper, from $400 on up. The components include the bike, motor, motor controller, batteries, and rider controls. There are a few extras available, but those are the basics.
Bikes. The choice of bike for the conversion process really is up to you. Kits are made to accommodate standard, modern designs. With the exception of only a few obscure models, nearly any bike will convert easily.